We woke up at 7 a.m. and Yasmin, Yoselin, Paola, and Aracely came in to say good morning, The older girls said goodbye on their way to school. Aracely went to get Terri the dog and the two of them hung out in our room, Aracely chatting with us in Spanish. Craig took a shower and then I followed him. When Eddy awoke, Aracely brought him into the room, explaining that he needed to get his presents since he was asleep last night when the girls got theirs. We went into the dining room and Mukul gave Eddy a stuffed bulldog. We gave Eddy three wooden trucks which come apart like a puzzle. He has good dexterity and immediately took them apart and tried to put them back together. We also gave him a "Massachusetts USA" T-shirt. For breakfast we had black beans and plantains with cream and scrambled eggs.
At 9 o'clock, we walked to Humberto's office and met up with the Montreal couple and their adopted VietNamese toddler daughter who would join us for Humberto's Mayan village tour. There was also a Dutch couple who would be sharing the boat with us. We gave Aracely a hug and kiss goodbye and then walked down to the lakefront. It was a beautiful day and we had very nice views of the surrounding volcanoes. We boarded our boat and the driver took us to San Marcos, the first of our three stops.
We reached the docks and got out of the boat. Humberto drew our attention to some small porous rocks which were actually floating on the surface of the water. Floating rocks are not something that you see every day, so we looked more closely. Mukul pocketed one of the small stones to add to his garden back in Agra.
We walked through a storybook labyrinth of narrow wooded footpaths (lined with coffee plants and beautiful flowers), past picturesque hotels and spas advertising yoga, spa treatments, saunas, and massages. We passed some gringo hippies. We followed some of these paths inland from the lake and came to a dirt road. There was a sign for a nightclub called Blind Lemon's, which had a familiar photo of Blind Lemon Jefferson. It advertised sports, live music, billiards, big screen movies, restaurant, cafe, and internet. It was quite a curious sight, obviously a draw for the expat community. This was certainly the kind of town where one could spend a few days to be seriously pampered with massages, yoga, etc.
We saw where the river cuts through the center of town, and a lot of erosion had happened as a result of Tropical Storm Agatha. We saw a woman digging up the street with a shovel and a baby on her back. A woman was washing clothes in the river, whose rocky banks were held in place by chicken wire. There was a nice church as is common in these small villages. We peeked inside. It was lit by the sun shining through stained glass windows and it had lace draped from the ceiling.
We got back into the boat. Our next stop was San Juan la Laguna. This town has a lot of artist and craft cooperatives. We went into an art gallery run by the Asociacion de Artistas Maya Tzutzujil. They had a variety of paintings. Some were the popular bird's eye view of traditional activities, as if the artist was looking down on the scene from above. There were portraits, abstract designs, and landscapes of the volcano-ringed lake. We picked out a painting of three Mayan women weaving with traditional backstrap looms. We decided that we would stop back on our way back to the boat, and Humberto led us through the village.
There were lots of murals around town depicting traditional scenes, such as shamen healing people, or people painting and weaving. We stopped in to "Telar de Cintura Chinimaya", where a woman demonstrated spinning thread and weaving using a backstrap loom for us. Guatemalan weaving is beautiful, and we have many such textiles in our home.
As we walked down the street, we noticed a group of adults and children creating an alfombra (sawdust carpet) being constructed on the cobblestone street. We had first seen this art form in 2004 in Antigua, where such alfombras were created out of flowers and colored sawdust for Semana Santa processions in the week leading up to Easter. Here they were using colored sawdust and stencils to create an alfombra for the San Juan Batista festival of the town's patron saint. We watched them creating the gorgeous ephemeral piece of art which would ultimately be walked upon and destroyed by a religious procession. One of the young boys who was creating the alfombra was wearing a straw hat and had striking green eyes.
We continued on to the workshop of the Asociacion Ixoqui, where a woman demonstrated spinning thread for us. When we were done looking around the workshop, we heard the sound of a procession starting up. So we headed outside and took a shortcut so that we could head it off and see it approaching. Men played clarinets and drums, and someone was chanting something indecipherable over a loudspeaker. Boys wore white altar boy robes and carried candles and crucifixes. Women covered their heads with cloth. A number of women wore turquoise huipiles (traditional blouses) with white veils. Some people carried flags, others shouldered the weight of effigies of St. John the Baptist. The fragrance of pine resin incense filled the air. People threw flower petals into the air toward the effigies, like confetti. The procession passed by solemnly, and some firecrackers went off in its wake. All of the assembled people joined in behind the procession as it passed by. It was really a nice, unexpected treat to be able to see this kind of tradition.
On our way back to the boat, we stopped back in at the art gallery to purchase the painting of the traditional Mayan weavers. The boat next took us to Santiago Atitlan, the only one of today's three villages that we had ever visited before. We stopped for lunch at the Restaurante Wacha'lal Parrillada. Craig and Mukul had Gallo beers and I had fresh lemonade. Craig and I ate steak, beans, chorizo, French fries, onions, and guacamole. It was a nice meal. After that we walked over to the Parque Central. Kids were having a great time on a trampoline, and we looked at several statues and a scale model of the lake and surrounding volcanoes. There was also a statue of the 25 centavo coin, which depicts a Mayan woman in the traditional dress of Santiago Atitlan.
We entered the Iglesia Parroquial Santiago Apostol, a Catholic church founded in 1547. A young Mayan woman with Downs Syndrome approached us, smiled, hugged us around the waist, called us "amigo" and stayed with us as we toured the church. The main altar was under construction so we couldn't see the beautiful carved woodwork up close. The wood carvings depict a mountain and mix Catholic and Mayan motifs. Statues of the saints around the perimeter of the church were dressed in bright clothing. Humberto told us that different groups of people take turns dressing the saints.
The church was a place of refuge for many Mayans during the civil war. Over 1000 people were killed or disappeared from Santiago Atitlan alone during the violence. Families would spend the night sleeping in the relative safety that the church provided. In July of 1981, Father Stanley Rother, the parish priest from Oklahoma, was shot to death in the rectory of the church. Though he had received death threats, he had insisted on staying with his parishioners, some of whom had been kidnapped or murdered during the violence of the civil war. Father Rother had learned the Tzutujil Mayan dialect. He conducted Mass in the language of his parishioners, and also translated the New Testament for them. He had been preaching in Santiago Atitlan for 13 years, and had intended to serve there for the rest of his life. Though his body was brought home to Oklahoma for burial, at the request of his parishioners, his heart was buried behind the altar in the church. There is a memorial plaque in the church which heralds him as a martyr.
After leaving the church, Humberto bought some pitaya fruit from a seller. We remembered our first trip to Santiago Atitlan, when Humbertohad bought some fresh pitaya for us to sample. Since then it has been a favorite fruit of ours when visiting the area. We stopped to visit a weaver and a woman demonstrated the traditional head wrap (cinta, or xk'ap) which looks like a narrow woven belt. It is wrapped repeatedly around the woman's head and ends up looking like a hat brim. It is depicted on the choka (25 centavo coin). There was a Mayan sauna there, a small stone building, one use of which was for women during their pregnancies.
Santiago Atitlan is home to a famous effigy of the folk saint Maximon (pronounced "Mah-shee-mon"). Maximon is said to be a combination of Judas Iscariot, the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado, Saint Simon, and various pre-Columbian Mayan deities such as Maam, the god of the underworld. The story goes once upon a time, in a small Mayan village, all of the men went off to war, except for Maximon, who stayed behind to watch over the women. When the men returned from battle, they found that all of the women were pregnant, and they subsquently killed Maximon. The women were upset by this and forced the men to worship Maximon from then on.
Maximon's effigy is kept in a different private house each year, and tourists can pay a small fee to visit him. People usually leave offerings of cigars and aguardiente liquor, two of Maximon's favorite vices. We had visited Maximon in such a house in 2007. When we visited in 2004, it was Holy Week (Semana Santa). We witnessed the effigy being taken to the lake and having his clothing washed by the men of the town, while the women stood vigil waiting for their return. On the Wednesday before Easter, the effigy in his newly cleaned clothes was paraded around town and finally brought to the Iglesia Parroquial Santiago Apostol. The cult of Maximon is very interesting, and Humberto had planned a visit to show him to Mukul. However, the afternoon showers had already rolled in, so our window of opportunity is pretty much gone (though Maximon does have an online presence for those who are unable to visit him in person).
Humberto procured a large sheet of plastic. We all walked back to the lake in a single file line beneath the plastic, allowing us to keep our painting safe from the rain. Humberto and the boat crew fastened plastic sheeting all around the boat to keep us from getting wet on the ride back to Panajachel on the choppy lake.
It stopped raining by the time we arrived. We said goodbye to the Canadians and walked back home. Paulina was minding the office when we arrived. We played in the hallway between the guest rooms. Aracely was suffering from a toothache. I gave her a piggy-back ride to try to cheer her up. Rocio came over and we gave her the gifts we had brought for her, since she had not been around at the time when we passed them out to everyone else last night. She then ran home and got Valentine cards for each of us.
The girls tried on their "Somebody Loves Me in Massachusetts" shirts. Aracely wrote in her journal. Cousins Josue and Neli came over and a group of them started to play tag. The person who was "it" had to throw a stuffed Elmo at the other kids. They flung that toy around and had a wonderful time. Eddy woke up from a nap and came over to play with all of us. The girls have traditionally loved for me to sing "Rock-a-Bye-Baby" to them. Yoselin asked me to sing it now. Eddy immediately stopped whatever he was doing and stared at me transfixed. This would happen several times over the course of this trip.
Yasmin, Yoselin, and Aracely wanted to go for a walk. Craig, Mukul, and I grabbed Eddy and the seven of us set out together. I carried Eddy and we walked as far as the girls' school, but then it started to sprinkle rain. We decided to turn around. Mukul gave Eddy a shoulder ride back to the house.
When we got home we gathered in the hallway between the guest rooms. The girls blindfolded me and we played blind man's bluff, which was good for a lot of laughs. The kids would keep low to the ground, sometimes taunting me by grazing my legs and feet.
We had tea with a nice dinner of chicken tacos. Paulina made a special vegetarian version for Mukul. Cousin Alex came over with Craig's lost jacket, which Alex's dad had found in the street last night. That was a pleasant surprise.
Vanesa played some music on Humberto's phone. The girls seem to only really access music via phone mp3's or via Youtube on the computer. Aracely started dancing to Michael Jackson's "Beat It." There was another song that both she and Eddy danced to, and it was very entertaining.
We gave the family a photo of us with Eddy at his baptism. Eddy was captivated by it and wouldn't let anyone take the photo from him. We also gave them a picture of us with all the girls and Eddy. Eddy could recognize everyone and say their names, even Craig's (which is traditionally hard for Spanish-speakers to pronounce). When he sees himself in photos, he identifies himself as "nene" (baby).
We retired to our room at 9:45. I wrote in the journal and then we went to bed at 10:10 after a busy day.
San Juan procession, San Juan la Laguna
(3 minute video)